Scientists reveal 5000 year old “Ivory Man” is actually a woman


An artists impression of what Ivory Woman may have looked like. Photo: University of Seville

Scientists have discovered they have been misgendering a woman who died in Spain five thousand years ago because of gender stereotypes that were applied to interpreting her burial site.

Discovered in 2008, archaeologists assumed the woman was male as the splendour and scale of the burial suggested it belonged to a great and powerful leader.

They weren’t wrong about the occupant being a great leader.

But they now realise that they were wrong to code the burial as male because it contained daggers made of flint and crystal as well as flint knives.

An elephant tusk and other high status objects made of ivory was what lead them to give the body its original name, which has now been changed to Ivory Woman.

Other objects found in the grave included ostrich eggshells and a ceramic plate that was found to have chemical traces of wine and cannabis.

A team of researchers used a new technique on the woman’s remains to determine a person’s sex by testing for a protein in a person’s teeth that differs between men and women.

Revered long after death

Archaeologists compared the burial to around two thousand others from the same age and believe that its scale indicates she may have been the regional ruler or played some other high status role in her community.

They now also believe that another tomb, located only a hundred meters from Ivory Woman’s burial, which contains the remains of another 15 women, may contain generations of her descendants.

She appears to have been revered long after her death as objects were still being left at her burial site two hundred years later.

“In the past, it was not uncommon for an archaeologist to find [remains] and say, ‘OK, this individual has a sword and a shield. Therefore, he’s a man.’ Of course, [this is] deeply mistaken, because it assumes that in the past gender roles were the way we conceive them today,” Leonardo García Sanjuán, one of the study’s author’s, said according to CNN.

“There is not a single burial [in this region] that remotely compares to the Ivory Woman in terms of the wealth she was buried with. Not women, not men,” García Sanjuán said.

“She must have been highly charismatic person. She probably traveled or did have connections with people from faraway lands.”

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Andrew M Potts

Andrew has been covering LGBTQIA+ issues for a range of publications in Australia over two decades and was the Asia-Pacific correspondent for global LGBTQIA+ news website Gay Star News.

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